Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
After the publication of his masterpiece of political theory, Leviathan, Or the Matter, and Power of Commonwealth Ecclesiastic and Civil, in 1651, opponents charged Thomas Hobbes with atheism and banned and burned his books. The English Parliament, in a search for scapegoats, even claimed that the theories found in Leviathan were a likely cause of the Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.
For the modern reader, though, Hobbes is more recognized for his popular belief that humanity's natural condition is a state of perpetual war, with life being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Despite frequent challenges by other philosophers, Leviathan's secular theory of absolutism no longer stands out as particularly objectionable. In the description of the organization of states, moreover, we see Hobbes as strikingly current in his use of concepts that we still employ today, including the ideas of natural law, natural rights, and the social contract. Based on this work, one could even argue that Hobbes created English-language philosophy, insofar as Leviathan was the first great philosophical work written in English and one whose impact continues to the present day.
About the Author:
Thomas Hobbes was born on Good Friday in 1588. Despite growing up in an impoverished clerical family, he was precociously intelligent and completed a classical education at Oxford. He decided not to follow in his father's footsteps, though, and instead became a tutor within an aristocratic family. When these royalist political connections and a number of personal writings in support of monarchical authority got Hobbes centrally involved in the turmoil of the English Civil War, he feared for his safety and fled to France in 1640. It was while in exile in France that he wrote Leviathan, the work that cemented Hobbes' philosophical reputation as the pre-eminent modern theorist of secular absolutism.